Cathy Jones' Commentary:

Posted September 13, 2005 (user submitted)

Berkeley County is one, if not the fastest growing counties in West Virginia. You would think that eing the only enclosed mall in the county would be booming, but that is not the case. The are reasons for it though. Berkeley County is located in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle. A county that borders Virginia to the south and Maryland to the north.

Martinsburg Mall opened up 1991. At the time, many thought the new mall would be a huge success. Some of the other malls in nearby counties ( in other states ), such as Valley Mall in Hagerstown, Maryland and Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester, Virginia were so concerned about Martinsburg Mall that both of those town's newspapers question how long will their own malls would continue. The owners of those malls who for years had served many customers from West Virginia thought that with a new mall opening up in their home state, they will shop there. Well that for the most part didn't happened. More about that later.

Crown American was the developer of Martinsburg Mall. When the mall opened in 1991, in was anchored by Wal-Mart, Sears, JC Penney, and Hess. The Hess store is now The Bon-Ton. The mall at the time was the biggest in terms or area. Complete with an indoor golf course, a few carnival rides, food court, but interesting no movie theatres. The mall itself was big enough to hold 100+ stores and even included a special opening for a possible new anchor. Well today, maybe about 50 stores remain in the mall and some sections of it have never really been filled.

In 1991, quite a few businesses planed on opening up shop in the Martinsburg/Berkeley County area including United Airlines. It was expected that with the combination of population growth and these new businesses, the mall will grow right along with the community.

For one reason or another, many of these "new businesses" never happened. Either plans were dropped or in the case with United Airlines, decided to go elsewhere.

While the predicted growth did occur, most of Berkeley County's growth took place ( and is still happening ) in towns near the border of Maryland to the north ( 10 miles to Hagerstown ) and likewise to the south ( 10 miles to Winchester ) not really so much around the center of the county where Martinsburg is located. Many people living in those border towns were asking the question "why should I shop in Martinsburg when Hagerstown ( or Winchester ) has much more to offer and they are closer?" In Virginia's case you had lower sales taxes. Winchester's 4.5% ( now 5%) compared to West Virginia's 6%.

The most popular store at Martinsburg Mall was and still is Wal-Mart. For many years the store had an indoor entrance that took you to the mall. However in 1998 when Wal-Mart converted that store into a Supercenter, the indoor entrace to the mall was closed off and the only way to get from Wal-Mart to the rest of the mall was to go outside and walk several feet to the entrance next to Sears. Because of this many who shopped at Wal-Mart simply didn't go to the mall.

Martinsburg Mall ( and Martinsburg itself ) suffered from the large retail boom that was occuring in the other towns across the borders. Hagerstown's Valley Mall for example, around 1999 expanded to include a huge multi-plex plus a Hecht's ( soon to be Macy's , Old Navy and a bunch of new stores.

Hagerstown also received a new Prime Outlet center as well as a new power-center with such chains as Circuit City, Borders Books & Music, Home Depot, Marshalls, Office Max, Dicks Sporting Goods, Petsmart, and a new Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Target and Kohls would also open up in Hagerstown as well. South of the Valley Mall, near the West Virginia border.

Meanwhile in Virginia, Winchester was ( and still is ) going through their own retail boom as well. Even though their Apple Blossom Mall ( Sears, Belk, and JC Penney are their anchors ) hasn't changed a bit since they opened in 1982, the area around it has. Target, Kohls, Office Max, Lowes, Home Depot, Staples, Petsmart, Books A Million, Circuit City, Toys R US, Chilis, Pargos, Ruby Tuesday and Ross have all opened up within the last ten years. Plus a new power-center is currently being built near Apple Blossom Mall to include not only a bigger Circuit City, but Borders Books & Music, Linens & Things, Old Navy, Red Lobster, and Olive Garden as well.

Because of the boom of big-book retail that has happened in the border towns, of course none of it has happened in Martinsburg. While the area itself around the Martinsburg Mall has grown, it is nowhere the growth that has happened in the other nearby towns.

Even though there are many who believe the Martinsburg Mall has been dead since day one, there were a few times the mall did well, but it was short lived. When Outback Steakhouse opened up near Martinsburg Mall,it was the only one in the area. Today, Hagerstown has one and Winchester's will open up next year. When Hoyts opened up a 10 screen multi-plex across the mall, again it was the first one in the area and that too helped the mall ( though it was across the road from the mall ), but sadly repeated itself as Hagerstown got a bigger one ( attached to Valley Mall ), and a bigger one yet is being built in Winchester.

When smoking was banned at the malls in Winchester and Hagerstown, some of those people who felt they needed to puff while shopping started shopping at Martinsburg Mall. However that mall like the the others banned smoking as well and the smokers, well they went someplace else.

Crown America a few years back sold off the Martinsburg Mall. I believe it was reported at the time that the mall was amoung the lowest they had in sales.

Martinsburg Mall is still there, and Wal-Mart is still the busiest store but to go inside the mall itself, with the exception of Christmas, the mall is pretty much a ghost town.


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